We Have Smoke Detectors; How About a COVID Detector?

Production is ramping up on a made-in-Canada, wall-mounted system that detects the presence of the novel coronavirus in the air.


The vast majority of COVID-19 transmission happens through the air. The relative lack of air circulation compared to the outdoors makes indoor spaces a particular concern, especially as frigid winter temperatures are forcing Canadians to spend more time inside.

But what if we could install air monitoring systems for the coronavirus in public spaces, just like a smoke detector?

Thanks to patent-pending technology from Ontario-based BioCloud, a subsidiary of smart building monitoring company Kontrol Technologies Corp, manufacturing of a wall-mounted viral detector is now ramping up.

In addition to detecting SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — a BioCloud analyzer can also detect Legionnaires Disease, SARS, MERS, and Hand Foot and Mouth Disease by sampling the air in a room.

The BioCloud analyzer continuously draws in air samples that then flow through a proprietary detection chamber. The technology combines a viral collider and a chemical process to trap virus particles that can be detected with a laser sensor if they are present in the air.

When a target virus of concern is detected, it triggers a silent alert system to facility managers in real time. The limit of detection of live SARS-CoV-2 is 0.005 nanograms, which is around 5,000 viral particles.

Each BioCloud analyzer is self-contained, and only needs to be mounted to the wall and plugged in to start operation. It doesn’t require swabs, laboratory tests, sample logistics, or interactions with medical personnel. The detection cartridges can easily be replaced at regular maintenance intervals or after a detection event.

While the analyzer can’t replace laboratory testing, it can serve as a real-time complement in public spaces like classrooms, long term care facilities, hospitals, public transportation, aircraft, stores, and workplaces.

Research and development was initially funded with a $500,000 grant from the National Research Council of Canada, and manufacturing is currently scaling up to 20,000 units per month with a $4-million investment from the Province of Ontario. The analyzers will be manufactured in Ontario, and 85 percent of the supply chain for its component parts are also manufactured in the province.

Around the world, people are seeking out ways to ensure that the places where we gather to work, learn, and play are safe. The BioCloud analyzer provides an extra layer of security during uncertain times as we work together to control the spread of COVID-19.

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Karyn Ho is a science animator and engineer who thrives at the interface between science, engineering, medicine, and art. She earned her MScBMC (biomedical communications) and PhD (chemical engineering and biomedical engineering) at the University of Toronto. Karyn is passionate about using cutting edge discoveries to create dynamic stories as a way of supporting innovation, collaboration, education, and informed decision making. By translating knowledge into narratives, her vision is to captivate people, spark their curiosity, and motivate them to share what they learned.